[Ppnews] Angola 3 Dispatch: Albert Woodfox Hearing
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Mar 4 10:30:29 EST 2009
Angola 3 Dispatch: Albert Woodfox Hearing
Film crews, Angola prison guards, and more scenes from a New Orleans courtroom.
By <http://www.motherjones.com/authors/jordan-flaherty>Jordan Flaherty
Tue March 3, 2009 9:24 PM PST
On a brisk New Orleans morning, as hotel workers,
attorneys, and the occasional tourist walked
past, a small crowd gathered outside the US Court
of Appeals on Camp Street in the city's central
business district. They came from as far away as
Maine and California, and as close as a few
blocks away. They brought "I am Herman Wallace"
and "I am
Woodfox" t-shirts, a documentary film crew, and a
bubble-shaped vandonated by ice cream magnate
Ben Cohenthat called for Wallace's and Woodfox's
freedom. They were all here for a hearing of the
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals which would
whether to uphold a federal judge's decision and let Woodfox to go free.
Standing out among the gathering, in a sharp suit
and a deep baritone voice, was Parnell Herbert,
an activist known in the local spoken word
community as the "poetic panther." Herbert grew
up with Woodfox, who has been in solitary
confinement for 36 years. Displaced to Texas by
Hurricane Katrina, he returns to New Orleans
whenever there is movement in his friend's case.
"I'm trying to draw attention to a situation the
state of Louisiana wants to keep buried," he
says. "We're here to show support for the truth."
It is rare for a prisoner to leave the Louisiana
State Penitentiary at Angola, a former slave
plantation; it's estimated that 95 percent of the
inmates will die behind bars. (The day before the
Center released a report(pdf) showing that one in
26 Louisiana adults is under correctional
control, the largest percentage in the US and the
world.) One who did make it out was Robert King,
the third member of the Angola 3, released in
2001 after a judge overturned his conviction. "We
hope this nightmare is finally ending," King told me at the hearing.
Inside the courtrooma smallish room with grand,
50-foot-high ceilingsthe front row held another
type of Angola resident: guards, administrators,
and their family members. "I asked Warden [Burl]
Cain if anyone is running Angola," attorney Nick
Trenticosta told me. "Because it seemed like everyone was here."
There was no courtroom spectacle or
confrontation. Observers from both sides followed
the proceedings with an intense and studious
quiet, some taking notes. The hearing lasted
about an hour. Lawyers for both sides made their
case, occasionally interrupted by questions from
the three-judge panel. "I was very encouraged by
today's argument," Trenticosta told me later. "I
think the court understands our case, and that's half our job."
After the hearing ended, supporters chatted,
dissecting the proceedings. The court may take
between four weeks and six months to release a
ruling, but that time seems short compared to the
decades the case has already taken. Even if the
court lets stand the ruling overturning Woodfox's
conviction, the state has already vowed to retry
him. Still, among Woodfox's supportersmany of
whom not yet born when he was last a free
manthere was a palpable expectation of success.
"Albert has hope," King told me. "And as long as
Albert has hope, we all have hope."
A3 Supporters Brave the Cold to Speak Out
Angola 3 Action Hosts Another Classy and Creative A3 Event
About 3 dozen supporters gathered early on this
unseasonably frigid morning wearing all black A3
T-shirts while a newly outfitted mobile billboard
proclaiming "36 Years of Solitary, 36 Years of
Innocence" circled the courthouse. The protest
was peaceful, respectful, and well-matched to the
formal tone of the hearing soon to begin.
A big thanks to Angola 3 Action for organizing
and to Loyola Law School for providing legal
observers. I'll send out pictures later this week ;)
Was Albert Wrongfully Convicted?
A Short Summary of this A3 Day in Court
By the time many of us made it up to the
courtroom, it was packed with ample
representation from supporters of both
camps. Two lines of spectators stood against the
back wall for the duration of the hearing since
all available seats were quickly filled. Many of
the main characters from the State's team were
present: Burl Cain, the Miller family, several
Angola guards and residents (although none in
uniform as in previous hearings), and of course Buddy Caldwell.
As advertised, the hearing was short and to the
point. Both sides argued clearly and
reasonably. None of the three judges shied away
from questions--I counted almost 20 in the short
50 min proceeding. In fact the panel voluntarily
allotted an additional 5 min to each side to
account for how inquisitive they were. It was
clear to anyone listening that the judges were
all very well informed about the most minute
details of the case; and reassuring that despite
their intense questioning, there was nothing they
asked that Albert's attorneys were not anticipating.
Since inadequate defense counsel is at the heart
of Judge Brady's ruling, there was lively debate
throughout as to whether it was even possible to
discern in more than a purely speculative way
whether the performance of Albert's 1998 legal
team was "inadequate" or simply
"unsuccessful." Nuances about the very
definitions of legal concepts and precedents like
"Brady" and "Strickland," as well as
inconsistencies surrounding central pieces of
evidence like the bloody fingerprint and
eye-witnesses, were discussed in depth; but the
the judges also took time to ask for
clarification about less crucial points like the
alibi witnesses in Albert's first trial.
Despite diligent, thoughtful, and tough
questioning of both sides, the judges used words
like "oversights," "mistakes," and "governmental
mischief" when questioning the State about their
case. Judge King was sure to remind the State
when they directed her to read a certain page of
the Magistrate's report that the judges were
better prepared than the State seemed to
think: "Oh, we have read it..." she said emphatically.
Now it is simply a waiting game. We expect the
court to rule in 1-6 months, and are hopeful it
will be sooner than later since they themselves
"expedited" the process during the bail proceedings.
As a quick review, if the 5th Circuit agrees with
Albert's attorneys and upholds Judge Brady's
ruling, then the State has 120 days to either
retry or release Albert. They have already vowed
to retry him. If the 5th Circuit agrees with the
State, then the conviction is reinstated and
Albert would have to start the appeals process
all over again with a different claim if he wants
to try to gain his freedom. There are several
other possible scenarios that could play out but
those are the two most likely outcomes.
NPR, AP, Times Picayune, & Mother Jones
Please take a moment when time allows to review
some of the media coverage of today's events.
Laura Sullivan did another excellent piece, as
did the always welcome
The evening before the hearing
Jones posted a new investigative background piece
on the case you might also want to check out.
Will update everyone as soon as anything new
develops, and as always, thanks so much for all
your support. Without it, Albert likely would
have never made it this close to walking out of Angola a free man.
A3 Campaign Coordinator
<mailto:odsllc at gmail.com>odsllc at gmail.com
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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